Monday, September 30, 2013

Review Comparative Cultural Policy by Milena Kostic

Reviewed by Milena Kostic

This collected edition is the result of a vast collaborative research effort on comparative cultural policy. After a rich comparative research program led to a series of publications on national cultural policies that were well-received by their French-speaking audiences in Canada and abroad, Monica Gattinger and Diane Saint-Pierre decided to further their work and collaborations in comparative cultural policy to address the question of provincial cultural policy in Canada in all its diversity. There is no doubt that cultural policy researchers in Canada will find this edition to be one of the most significant and sorely needed contributions to the field in recent years.
In terms of theoretical considerations, this collected edition finds its roots in a number of questions that both Gattinger and Saint-Pierre have raised through their academic publications on the heuristic potential and/or limitations of comparative research on sub-national governments (provinces, states, regions, etc.). These sub-national considerations are important given that most models or archetypes of reference are based on national experiences. The last chapter of this book, in particular, furthers this reflection by opening discussion on strategies for a comparative research program at the sub-national level. Building on an overview of the most salient features of each chapter, as well as on their discussions and exchanges with their collaborators, Gattinger and Saint-Pierre point out a number of variables or dimensions that a comparative (infra/sub) national research programme should comprise: history, political culture, relationships between national and sub-national governments, demography, geography, as well as the rationale and conception of culture entertained by each province.
While there are a number of interesting insights put forward for comparative research in this edition, both authors might come across as being overly cautious. For instance, the limitations of the applicability of national archetypes to sub-national contexts has not benefited from a more comprehensive discussion, leaving the task of theorizing and aggregating patterns for sub-national archetype construction entirely open. Such in-depth discussion could have addressed the problematical identity of the hybrid category of cultural policy that is defined as building from French, American, and British national models. As both authors of this conclusive chapter observe, most provincial cultural policy tends to fit the definition of a hybrid cultural policy. It is, in my opinion, very clear that this contribution will fuel a number of debates that will guide discussions and research agendas within the comparative cultural policy research community.
While this work must be credited for the theoretical debate it brings to our awareness, the greater value of this work lies in its systematic treatment of each Canadian province’s cultural policy. Each province is approached as a case study, and each case study benefits from in-depth coverage based on a tri-dimensional analytical structure focusing on history, cultural administration, and cultural policy. The editors of this collected edition must be applauded for this decision as it gives weight to their contribution. As the logic of case studies command, the different historical and cultural specificity of each province is given equal voice. In doing so, the editors have avoided the temptation of amalgamating provinces into artificial and, at times, questionable regional ensembles (e.g., the Prairies, Atlantic Canada, etc.). This renders the collected edition all the more useful for instructors, students, cultural administrators, and the many researchers or advocates gravitating in the sphere of cultural policy research. Gattinger’s chapter, for instance, represents perhaps the single greatest effort to date of providing a systematic treatment of Ontario’s cultural policy. In addition to the individual chapters on the Canadian provinces, a chapter on the Canadian North and a chapter on cultural statistics in Canada complete this collected edition. This collected edition is already a well-cited reference in the field of cultural policy, and there is no doubt that its English translation, scheduled to be published by the University of Toronto Press, will only strengthen its popularity and referential value.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

THE CRIMINAL INTENSITIES OF LOVE AS PARADISE (Robert Kroetsch) review by Tanja Cvetkovic


Author : Tanja Cvetkovic


“The Criminal Intensities of Love As Paradise” (1981) is Kroetsch’s long poem concluding Field Notes. His search for a new poetic form that he had been making during his long literary career came to its full light in this poem. The poem diverges from the conventions of the lyric tradition and, in typical Kroetschian style, distrusts the authority of  the author, foregrounds the poem as process rather than product, with the focus on the generative meaning resisting closure. Apart from the concern with voice and Kroetsch’s use of multiple voices, these are mainly the features of the long poem as defined by Cindy McMann in her article.1

McMann compares the features of long poem and Kroetsch’s “The Criminal Intensities” to the experimental jazz of the mid-twentieth century. She focuses on rhythm and voice as a point of divergence from the conventions of the lyric tradition which both “The Criminal Intensities” and the most influential jazz of the 1960s have in common. Jazz music uses the lyric form like the long poem, and by citing Heble that “jazz like language is a system of signs”2, McMann explains that in “The Criminal Intensities” the process of narrative is explored in the way that “language becomes its own narrative and its own end”.3 So, if “The Sketches of a Lemon” is a poem about words and words and words, then “The Criminal Intensities” is a poem about the way the words relate and how the poem builds upon its own language the way musical pieces in jazz build upon their own language. Both in the poetics of long poetry and in the jazz aesthetics, we deal with fractured subjectivity and disunified voice. In the interview to Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy, Kroetsch explains that in this poem there are even not pronouns at all because “[he] can’t handle pronouns anymore”.4 A focus on the beginning rather than on end and closure, the emphasis on process and activity are features characteristic of both streams of thought.

The structure of the poem is very specific. It consists of two lyric narratives. The narrative in the left-hand column is created through sound and visuals while the narrative in the right-hand column is more traditional and is undermined by indeterminacy and open-endedness of the left text. The left-hand column is  based on the imagery of two lovers with the narrative beginning in the morning when the lovers wake up and ending in the evening when the lovers go back to their tent in Jasper Park, Alberta.

The poem opens up with “Morning, Jasper Park” and the activity of the lovers which is immediately undermined by the left text and the first word: “etymologies”.


of sun or

stone of ear

and listening


the bent of

birth on edge

the chrysalis

and parting bone


old as old as

time as time


hand of hand5


The word “etymologies” refers to the history and the origin of a word and in combination with the rest of the words “of sun or/ stone of ear/ and listening” invokes timelessness. The words “listening” and “ear” suggest that the reader should be aware of what the words convey, should listen to how the words relate. The idea of birth and beginning that is introduced in the second stanza at the beginning of the poem is actually underlined at the end of the poem, where instead of closure and end, the author suggests new beginning by filling the closing lines with the imagery of birth:


the closed eye

listen &

O  nesting tongue

hatch the world6


The lovers’ activity, their going to the tent to sleep at night (“the closed eye”), is undercut by the imagery of birth (“nesting” and “hatch”). McMann suggests in her article that “the poem at this point offers a new genesis, and directs the reader in their readerly duties at the very point where traditionally those duties are about to cease”.7

The right-hand narrative is opposed to the verbal energy produced by the left-hand text and explores the lovers’ sojourn throughout the day. The narrative consists of actions that are near to completion, or that we can not be sure how they end. The lovers wake up, they quarrel, they don’t take the leap, they don’t go to the ice fields, they want to have a quickie,  they go for a swim, but we don’t know the results of their actions. McMann explains that the story is not the one that has happened, “but one that is continuous. It is not so much storytelling as a demonstration of how one would go about telling a story”.8 Kroetsch’s  interest is  “not story, but the act  of telling the story”.9

The left-hand text abounds in audio and visual imagery. The image of the bear scenting is a pontential threat for lovers:


forest & fain

& would lie down


rank as the rank

scenting of bear

bear baiting



catching & bruit



The bear, “baiting breath/ catching & bruit (noise)”, keeps the lovers awake. It is a symbol of instincts, the beginning, the unconscious, the sexual encounter that awaits the lovers.

The sexual act between the lovers is introduced by the orgasmic moment in the left text:


the darting of

& tongue & tongue

sheet or heat of



cry out & cry


as alabaster is

or dipping gull11


The scene ends by alabaster’s descent into water anticipating the orphic element. After that, the author goes on meditating on death:


& death as proud

as death

or  harping amphion

arouse a wall12


According to Walter A. Strauss, the descent into Hades is the second important moment of the Orpheus myth.13 Here the erotic merges with death instinct.

Shirley Neuman argues that the left text is written in the language of the unconscious, or as Lacan explains, a language whose structure is based on methaphor and metonymy. She claims that the left text “slides into metaphor only as the lovers themselves slide into dreams”.14 The left text is the quest for the origins of language, according to Neuman, and by locating the origins in the unconscious, which is plural, unstable, unreliable, so that the poem plays in “the difference between the name of the song, what the name is called, what the song is called, and what the song is”.15 In Lacanian sense, the meaning of the poem, as well as the name of the poem (“Love as Paradise”) is continually deferred. Neuman asks the crucial questions: “Where then is the poem to be found? What is the relationship of the rational language of the right hand text to this plurality of ‘meaning’ (ever glimpsed, ever deferred) in the left? Where does the fulfillment of the lovers, of the poem, lie?”16 The answer is in the gap between the conscious and the unconscious, in the space between two columns, between language as system and  language which undermines that system. Neuman concludes that fulfillment, in the Kroetschian vocabulary, is orgasm or death.17 Or fulfillment never happens and is deferred too.


1 Cindy McMann. “The Long Poem and the Jazz Aesthetic: Robert Kroetsch’s ‘The Criminal Intensities of Love As Paradise’”. Interdisciplinary Humanities. Vol. 23 Issue 2 (Fall 2006): 87-98.

2 Heble in Cindy McMann. 88.

3 Ibid., 95.

4Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy. Poets talk. (Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2005): 16.

5 Robert Kroetsch.  Field Notes: 1-8, A Continuing Poem. (Don Mills: General Publishing Co., 1981).

6 Ibid.

7 Cindy McMann. “The Long Poem and the Jazz Aesthetic: Robert Kroetsch’s ‘The Criminal Intensities of Love As Paradise’”. Interdisciplinary Humanities. Vol. 23 Issue 2 (Fall 2006): 95.

8 Ibid.

9 Shirley Neuman and Robert Wilson. Labyrinths of  Voice: Conversations with Robert Kroetsch.(Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1982): 120.

10 Robert Kroetsch.  Field Notes: 1-8, A Continuing Poem. (Don Mills: General Publishing Co., 1981).

11 Ibid.


13 Walter A. Strauss. Descent and Return: The Orphic Theme in Modern Literature. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1971): 1-19. According to Strauss, the first major moment of the Orpheus myth is Orpheus as a singer and prophet who establishes harmony in the cosmos, the second is the descent into Hades and the loss of Eurydice and the third element is the dismemberment of Orpheus.

14 Shirley Neuman. “Figuring the Reader, Figuring the Self in Field Notes: ‘Double or Nothing’”. Open Letter 5: 8-9. (Summer-Fall 1984): 182.

15 Ibid., 183.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.






The Robert Kroetsch Award full scholarship

The Robert Kroetsch Award

The prize is awarded to the best manuscript by an emerging writer (a writer who has published fewer than four books). Winning manuscript will be selected by an established poet in co-operation with Invisible Publishing's Snare Imprint.

The winner receives a trade paperback contract with publishing house which will include the publication of the manuscript (book, essay's...) and a $1500 advance.

Each entry must be accompanied with a an entry fee for $300.00 Canadian. Please make all cheques and money orders payable to “The Robert Kroetsch Award full scholarship.” No cash please.

For more information contact us on

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review by Jelena Jovic


once described him- self as having "lived my life alternating between various parts of the frontier or wilderness and various universities." It is a statement he must be weary of by now, for it hasbeen dutifully recorded onthe jacket of each of his three novels as though it somehow contained the secret of the man.But it does, in fact, provide an interesting perspective on his novels. Each of them could be called "regional" in their use of setting (the first takes place on the Mackenzie River, the next two in rural Alberta), but in the hands of the university-trained writer these settings are transmuted into something which goes far beyond regionalism. For while the journey in The Studhorse Man is from Edmonton to a small town called Coulee Hill, the novel's events take place on a mythic, rather than a realistic, plane. This mythicizing Kroetsch accom- plishes particularly through his use of names. Demeter Proudfoot is the book's narrator-author, a name which joins the Greek goddess of marriage to an English equivalent of the name Oedipus, while the hero whose wanderings he chronicles is called Hazard Lepage; as he leads his stallion Poseidon about in search of a perfect mare, Hazard encounters women with such delightful names as P. Cock- burn, the widow Lank, and Hole (with her husband Stiff). The effect of this technique is suggested in one of the nar- rator's reflections: I have more than once remembered that the pleasure in listening to a hockey game, as I do each Saturday night during the long winter, resides not only in the air of suppressed and yet impending violence, but also in the rain upon our senses of those sudden and glorious names. Style reinforces the mythic quality, for the novel utilizes the precise, sparse lan- guage of the fable. It eschews the use of descriptive detail for verisimilitude, and the description it does employ is most frequently the symbolic detail of the dream : Hazard also implied . . . that the ultimate horror came at having, while standing on the back of the galloping horse, to leap through a ring of fire. The flaming circle blazed before his eyes like a hole in the darkness, waiting to swallow him down. He could neither leap at the bright circle nor jump from the back of the mare. The mice were a shrill hum at Tad's bare feet. I n fact, Kroetsch conceives of his principal role as that of myth-maker (and feels that as such he is working in the tradition of other western Canadian novelists such as F. P. Grove and Mar- garet Laurence). For example, each of his novels provides the reader with its own reworking of the Oedipus arche- type. In But We Are Exiles, young Peter Guy must try to reconcile his accidental (but desired) killing of the man who has stolen his girl friend and whose very name, Hornyak, suggests the threatening aspect of male sexuality. In The Words of My Roaring the novel's protagonist, John Judas Backstrom, is locked in poli- tical struggle with an older man, Doc Murdoch, a man who has been like a father to him. Here too the battle be- comes a sexual one, a struggle which revolves around Murdoch's daughter. In The Studhorse Man this archetypal conflict is given new form. It is the novel's fictional author, Demeter, who believes himself to be a rival to the very character whose adventures he is chron- icling. Hazard, here, is the powerful male force, leading about the stud Posei- don, a phallic symbol on a leash ("You four-legged cock," he sometimes ad- dresses the animal ). The youthful Deme- ter stays close to home, and to Martha, the woman to whom Hazard will eventu- ally return. But in this novel even the phallic male has difficulties, for Hazard's quest for a mare to breed, and thus preserve the Lepage line of horses, is unsuccessful. "Whoever thought," muses Hazard at one point, "that screwing would go out of style?" And here, much more than in the other two novels, the two male figures are revealed as the duality which exists within man. Hazard and Demeter merge: Hazard takes the alias "Proudfoot"; upon occasions h e assumes poses which are characteristic of Demeter;and he may be—in fact probably is— a creation of the narrator's imagination, a projection of Demeter's divided self. The Oedipus myth is nottheonlyim- portant archetype working in these novels however — nor is it really the central one. Theplot of each takes its particular form from its own controlling myth. As itsepigraphsuggests,ButWeAreExiles is shaped by the story of Narcissus. (Seen in these terms, Hornyak becomes, in some sense, a reflection of Guy's o w n personality.)TheWordsofMyRoaring works with the seasonal-rebirth myth of Pluto a n d Persephone, a n d its struggle ultimately becomes that of the forces of death against those of life. InTheStudhorseMan,Kroetschhas employed a n archetype which must surely be difficult for any post-Joycean writer to attempt, that of the journey of Odysseus. Butsince Kroetsch is a writer of comic vision (themistake of hisfirst novel, he feels, wasits attempt to create a tragic world), he takes his hero on a delightfully insane mock-odyssey which is all this author's own.Demeter becomes a Telemachus who wishes to have Martha, a parodie Penelope who keeps a hotel, forhisown.Thefaithful Euryclea and the patient hound Argus are re- placed by the aching and aged house- keeper M rs. Laporte and her setter — and n o w , rather than being recognized by a scar, Hazard finds himself seduced by the woman, and scarred as anout- come. Poseidon, the god that kept Odysseus moving, is here Hazard's horse, hence his own turbulent phallic energy. And in the novel's parody of the Odyssey's reunion scene, Hazard's phallus becomes, for Martha, like Odysseus' bedpost —the centre of the universe and its source of stability: There was no tree of knowledge to equal that one in her will to know, no ladder and no hill. Axis mundi, the wise men tell us, and on it the world turns. But it is an Odyssey in which Odysseus dies in the end, and in which Hazard's very striving for fertility becomes inverted by modern civilization into sterility: I must intrude here a little scientific j a r - gon . . . [says Demeter to explain the use towhichPoseidonwasputafterHazard's death]. PMUisanabbreviation thatenables one to avoid saying Pregnant Mares' Urine. From t h e urine of pregnant mares (to be more precise, from urine collected during the fifth to the ninth month ofthe eleventh-month pregnancy), scientists a r e able to extract the female hormone known as oestrogen. With oestrogen, in turn, they have learned to prevent the further multi-plication of m a n upon the face of the earth. With its ingenuity, its skilful mani- pulation of the twin foci of Hazard and Demeter, a n d its spirit of comic madness, all handled with great technical ability and careful craftsmanship, The Stud- horse Man is a significant achievement.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oh, Canada! Two Posts on the Canadian Poetry Revolution


Hooray for our friends from up north! Two Canadian writers have recently posted about the rising quality of poetry in their native land. For The Globe and Mail, Russell Smith writes:

There hasn’t been so much challenging work around – so much that is playful, amusing, dazzling or simply exasperating – for as long as I can remember. Some of this has to do with a new generation of tough-minded editors, some of it has to do with the fading of a certain kind of weepy folksiness, and a lot of it has to do with the Internet. Quite simply, it is easier to read and share poems now, and people are actually doing it.
…I ran a poetry reading series in Toronto in the early 90s, so I can compare eras with some accuracy. I remember a great deal of regionalist-nationalist stuff, a lot of nature and a conversational tone. Al Purdy was its patriarch. That kind of thing is now firmly out, and a new breed of stern, impatient editors is reshaping our taste to something more highbrow and international.

In the National Post, poet Matthew Tierney announces his fear of being superseded by an exciting new generation of poets:

Fear is maybe too strong a word. It’s not as if I’m ducking snipers and snare traps. Instead call it awe, then, at their confidence. Because the poets hovering around thirty years of age in Canada are working some fierce mojo.
What do I mean? Well to start, they’re writing first books that could be second books, and second books that could be third. The quality of the debuts alone in the last two years makes my head spin. I’m going to name names and get myself in trouble for missing someone: Gabe Foreman and Linda Besner, Helen Guri, Kate Hall, Leigh Kotsilidis, Jenny Sampirisi, Darren Bifford, Jeff Latosik, Mat Henderson, Michael Lista, Leigh Nash. Not to mention those on their second book, Nick Thran, Erin Knight, David Hickey, Dani Couture and Jake Mooney, all punching above their weight.
It’s not merely that these books are good but how they’re good. Books that don’t hedge their bets, that seem unconcerned with conforming to reader expectations. Books from poets, it seems, who committed themselves early, read widely, and got down to it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Robert Kroetsch Tribute

How Do You Plant a Poet?


But how do you grow a poet?
This is the voice of Robert Kroetsch. This is how he renders it in Seed Catalogue. Kroetsch repeats the line, a question he asks himself often, throughout the long poem. With every repetition, five times in total, the line becomes a verbal tic: the voice is hesitant to write (Kroetsch Catalogue 37); it is insistent about understanding the process of writing (“How do you grow a poet?” 38, 39); and, it is persistent about developing a writing voice (“How do you grow / a poet?” 40). Another speaker replies to the italicized voice. Where the first speaker considers growing, the second voice, presumably belonging to a “poet,” responds with an anecdote about planting. This “poet’s” lines, which lack italics, sound more confidant than the lines with typographical emphasis. It seems that italics appear to indicate intimacy or urgency within Seed Catalogue. Other portions appear more aware, knowing or, more appropriately, self-reflexive. The “poet” teaches us about writing: “Start: with an invocation” (Kroetsch Catalogue 37). And, he inevitably teaches us about dying: “Killed him dead. / It was a strange / planting” (Kroetsch Catalogue 44). The “poet” speaks with a voice that Kroetsch remembers from childhood in rural Alberta. Repetition of such voices is how he remembers the past with Seed Catalogue. Kroetsch repeats these memories in a long poem that resuscitates his own history. Alternately, forgetting the past is akin to suffocation. Perhaps that is why the “poet” uses the gerund “planting,” which implies planting is ongoing, rather than the past tense, “planted.”

In “On Being an Alberta Writer: Or, I Wanted to Tell Our Story,” Kroetsch writes about exhuming a particular seed catalogue from the Glenbow Archives. “I wanted to write a poetic equivalent to the ‘speech’ of a seed catalogue,” he recalls, “[t]he way we read the page and hear its implications” (“Writer” 8). “The writing the writing the writing,” therefore, matters more to Kroetsch than its alterative, “the having written.” Because of that repetition, the writing seems to take on at least three stages: writing the poem, the writing implied by reading it, and the writing in response to it. Every subsequent commentary, essay, or review of “the writing” engages Seed Catalogue in a dialogue that Kroetsch began with his “explosive seed” of poetry. That way, the writing the writing the writing is “a strange / planting” within readers. The writing, etc., like the speaking, goes on, even without the “poet.” That is how you plant a poet.

I knew she was watching me. She was
watching me grow. Like a bad weed, she liked
to say. That pleased her.

The lesson of Seed Catalogue must be the writing the writing the writing. And, especially after Kroetsch’s death, it seems important that I keep this lesson in mind. My first thought after learning about the tragedy was, “well, I guess the field notes are finally complete.” Weeks later, I still do not know how to feel about this ending for the lifelong poem. I cannot convince myself that death is the end. That is to say, the voices that Kroetsch captured in writing still speak to me. I am convinced his dialogue with readers, somehow both intellectually profound and emotionally provocative, goes on. It seems remarkable to me that Kroetsch achieved such a range (with such rigour) by writing the tones of those who tend the land (instead of the pretensions of those who teach in ivory towers). An example from another long poem, “I’m Getting Old Now” from Sounding the Name, indicates how he engages with his upbringing. In this poem, the speaker relates a dream wherein his mother speaks to him as though he was still a child. It is unclear, though, if she is more “pleased” to watch her boy “grow,” or to repeat what they say about “a bad weed” (Kroetsch “Old” 202). With the next stanza, he speaks of awakening to realize that “I’m getting old now . . . Death is not quite / the enemy it was. It is a kind of watching” (Kroetsch “Old” 202). Then, in the final stanza, he feels that, in his old age, “Death begins to seem a friend that one has almost / forgotten, then remembers again.” If “Death” does not represent an end within “I’m Getting Old Now,” it is because the speaker has come to terms with aging. At the same time, aging necessitates memory in the poem. If forgetting represents a betrayal of history, remembering is a delay, or a deferral, of the inevitable end. I suspect this lesson about memory – a form of aging – from Sounding the Name is comparable to the one about writing – a form of speaking – from Seed Catalogue. If so, the writing the writing the writing is how Kroetsch “remembers again.”


After the bomb/blossoms Poet, teach us
After the city/falls to love our dying.After the rider/falls
(the horse West is a winter place.standing still) The palimpsest of prairie
under the quick erasure
of snow, invites a flight.
Driving up the Queen Elizabeth II highway to Kroetsch’s memorial service in Leduc, a friend revealed what she took away from Seed Catalogue: “it shows me the effectiveness of simple writing.” The four of us in the minivan – three friends from graduate school and one of our professors in the Department of English at the University of Calgary – agreed. We had all, at one time or another, approached Kroetsch for help with our writing. And, he generously obliged us all. He read drafts of our dissertations and manuscripts. He introduced us to other writers. I cannot confirm this, but I would like to say the discussion took place as we unknowingly steered around “the home place: one and a half miles west of Heisler, Alberta, / on the correction road / and three miles south” (Kroetsch Catalogue 30). Later, when I returned home, back to shelves that bow with books by Kroetsch, a line from Seed Catalogue went over in my mind. “Poet, teach us / to love our dying” (Kroetsch Catalogue 45). Now, with the long poem in hand, I am struck by the implications of another verbal noun. The italicized voice speaks of “dying” instead of “dead.” Farther along that column, the speaker provides a sense of what archaeology means to Kroetsch. Throughout Seed Catalogue, archaeology is a practice that forms the object of which it speaks. It offers us a way to speak of the past and of the shifts in epistemé to organize memories in writing while referencing the limits of the writing itself. In the opposite column of the long poem, the “poet” speaker repeats a principle theme of the long poem. He refers to an earlier passage where he remembers falling off a horse when he was a child. “The horse was standing still,” of course (Kroetsch Catalogue 29). Because of that repetition, it seems necessary to consider what compels the “poet” to embarrass himself. Perhaps he wants us to share the pathos of his memory. If so, he can align with his readers to experience “a strange planting” of voice on the page. The effect of this identification is why reading Seed Catalogue makes me uneasy. It is also why I feel compelled to remember how Kroetsch, the poet, affected me. His death is not the end, but it is a line break.

Review: It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems

It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems, Jeanette Lynes

It was so nice to finally get around to reading a full collection of poems by Jeanette Lynes. I’ve seen her verse around literary journals for years and have always been impressed by her output. She strikes me as a poet who revels in her own versatility, her ability to hit her subject matters from a variety of angles. She also strikes me as a poet unafraid of having a bit of fun on the page.

Both of these attributes are apparent in It’s Hard Being Queen, a kind of poetic rendering of the life of Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield. Lynes’ approach to capturing this crooner’s 60 years of turbulent existence is unapologetically linear but nonetheless engaging. The collection takes us from her early days in England, making her own recordings and trying to convince her family she’s destined for greatness, to the various vicissitudes of American show business and popular culture.

One of the focuses in the early part of the book is Springfield’s notorious perfectionism. Lynes captures this best in “The Producer’s Poem” when she writes:

If he had hair
he’d tear it out.
Hour nine, she records
the same syllable again,
again, again. She makes her art
one syllable at a time and it
hurts to watch …

Such methodical obsession could be applied—as Lynes no doubt knows—to poetry itself.

It’s Hard Being Queen walks us through Springfield’s initial rise to fame as well as her subsequent collapse into obscurity. Lynes captures this fall from grace in such aptly titled poems as “Some Things She Did for Money” and “How To Be Born Again (in the Secular Sense)” with its cheeky queries, “Have the fan letters the flowers/ stopped? Do your shoulder pads outsize/ your bank account?” The collection then leads us through Springfield’s improbable comeback, which culminated with Quentin Tarantino’s inclusion of her song “Son of a Preacher Man” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. With strokes of small genius, Lynes braids the film’s relentless violence with Springfield’s animosity towards the journalists who once again pay her attention:

She knows them, they’ve been calling
her fat and bent and lost for years,
their meat-grinder words pressed
into scandal-shaped patties.
She’s often wished them
gruesome ends.

As the collection comes to its close, one must inevitably ask: Is this hagiography? The answer, I think, is both yes and no. To be fair, there are times when it feels like Lynes is a bit too enamoured of her subject. She has a tendency to place Springfield on the right side of every situation, every dispute or flare of tension in these poems. Yet her ultimate goal is to gain a prismatic view on the life and career of this celebrity, and this is a goal she achieves. I never once felt like Lynes was telling me what to think of Dusty Springfield. There is a enough wiggle room in these pieces for a reader to come to his own conclusions.  

Review: Badlands, by Robert Kroetsch

Review: Badlands, by Robert Kroetsch
I got to meet Robert Kroetsch a few times in 2000-2002 when I was living in Winnipeg, doing my masters in creative writing at the University of Manitoba. I was surprised to learn (after the fact) that he was born in 1927: the man I met didn’t look a day over 60, and was so full of energy and enthusiasm for young writers and their young work.

Despite my allusions to his What the Crow Said in my own novel Off Book, I’m actually more familiar with Kroetsch’s poetry (Seed Catalogue, The Hornbooks of Rita K.) than his other work, and I came this week to his 1975 novel Badlands with a certain amount of hesitation. Maybe it was the bland brown cover of my New Press edition, but I was half-expecting prose as dry and austere as the prairie itself; I was expecting a novel written strictly for the academic set, for the prairie academic set no less.

What I wasn’t expecting was a book rich in hilarity and tragic adventure. Badlands tells the story of paleontologist William Dawe and his haphazard crew sailing down the Red Deer River in 1916 on the hunt for dinosaur bones in the Albertan badlands, told through the prism of Dawe’s estranged daughter Anna years later. The novel details Dawe’s single-minded obsession with finding a hitherto undiscovered fossil (a “Daweosaurus” as it were) and what such mania costs him as a father, a husband and a leader of men. The influences are obvious – Moby Dick with a dash of Heart of Darkness and The Caine Mutiny thrown in – but this is still a quintessentially Canadian novel, preoccupied as it is with notions of history and with relics.

Here, the bones that Dawe digs up represent a past that has become his present, has become what he has replaced his real present with. His expedition is complicated when a young aboriginal woman (referred to here by that horrid and antiquated slur squaw) meets the crew and becomes sexually involved with Dawe. The girl’s name is also Anna, and the connections and allusions between her and the framing narrative told by Dawe’s daughter reverberate throughout the text. The novel ends with the two Annas going on a very giddy road trip together through the badlands to make sense of the damage that Dawe’s expedition has done to them both.

If this all sounds a bit much, rest assured that there are fantastic moments of levity sprinkled throughout Badlands. These manifest mostly through a crew member named Web, whose oversexed mindset (oh, so many puns on the term “bone”) are as comical as his many instances of benign idiocy.

I’m quite pleased for taking a chance on this novel, and I’ll be reading more of Kroetsch’s prose in the future. Don’t be surprised if you see his earlier novel, The Studhorse Man (which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1969) crop up in my reading log before too long.

Writer for hire (contract writer)

Tanja Cvetkovic

M.A. in American Literature - University of Nis
Ph.D. in Canadian Literature - University of Nis
Research interests: American literature, Canadian poetry, Canadian-Caribbean literature, Robert Kroetsch's work, English language, translation.
She Specializes in Canadian literature with special interest on Robert Kroetsch.
She is  Associate Professor of English language at the University of Nis, Serbia. She enjoys writing, traveling, locating places from the novels in the real world. Finding connection between sport and literature is her favorite pastime activity.

Click HERE for contact

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

**** Short Prose COMPETITION ****

$3,500 PrizeWinner and finalists will have their stories submitted to three Canadian magazine publishers for consideration.

Entry Fee: $200 per entry.  by PAYPAL
  • Nonfiction and fiction prose; up to 2,500 words, English language
  • Not previously published in any format
  • Multiple submissions are welcome

  • How to Submit Entries :

    Send you'r manuscript to in doc, docx, or pdf with Unique ID Transaction code from Paypal.


    Postmarked: November 1, 2013


    Results will be posted at

    Payment details:

    order made on Paypal to mail in details you' name and last name.

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    Literary Celebrity by Literary Celebrity

    Margaret Atwood and the Labour of Literary Celebrity

     Literary Celebrity
    University of Toronto Press

    In the final chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, set in 2022, social media have transformed many familiar terms into what the book calls “word casings,” so that “democracy,” “story,” “real” and “friend” require quotation marks to signal irony. In the context of Egan’s book, this makes sense: one of the characters has a social network of 15,896 “friends.”
    Should Egan’s dystopian vision prove accurate, the word “celebrity” will surely join the other word casings. Lorraine York, the Senator William McMaster Chair in Canadian Literature and Culture at McMaster University, repeatedly acknowledges the word’s protean meanings in Margaret Atwood and the Labour of Literary Celebrity. Indeed, it is the crux of the book, which was born out of a dismissive remark by Toronto councillor Doug Ford. When Atwood raced to the defence of the city’s libraries, he told the press: “I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.” The CanLit über-star is the politician’s nobody.
    So York revisited territory already somewhat familiar from her Literary Celebrity in Canada, published by the University of Toronto Press in 2007. Atwood merited a chapter in that work, but apparently one was not enough.
    Now the very idea of literary celebrity, especially in Canada, may strike you as improbable. York takes pains to justify her topic. In Literary Celebrity in Canada, she starts with the assertion that Canadian writers have never been more visible, although scholars have neglected their public profiles in favour of their texts—leaving a convenient vacuum for her to fill. In this volume, Atwood provides a model of a writer who has crafted a presence that not only increases her sales, but also gives her some clout in the political arena to support the arts and the environment. With the possible exception of Pierre Berton, no Canadian author has worked as diligently and shrewdly to create and maintain celebrity status.
    York does not mention it, but such a study should be particularly timely now, when anyone can self-publish online. When everyone owns a printing press, it can only become more difficult to attract readers—making celebrity ever more important.
    I will return to the theme of what we talk about when we talk about celebrity. But for now let’s simply note that York is under no illusion that Margaret Atwood’s fame is at the level of Paris Hilton’s or Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Nonetheless, when Atwood set out to fight planned budget cuts to Toronto’s libraries in 2011, the occasion of Doug Ford’s slur, she was able to alert her 225,302 followers on Twitter to the campaign. That is impressive, but the last time I checked—May 20, 2013—Paris Hilton had 10,820,568.
    Appropriately then, York takes a characteristically Canadian modest approach. Her focus is not the phenomenon of Margaret Atwood, cultural icon, but the labour that went into creating that iconic stature—specifically, Atwood’s own labour. This is a scholarly examination of what Atwood did to become a cultural colossus, at least here at home.
    So York analyzes Atwood’s stable of assistants, editors and agents in terms of industrial relations. Consulting unpublished material from Atwood’s archive (Atwood made arrangements to archive her work astonishingly early), she pores over the writer’s efforts to promote both her own work and the causes she espouses. She discusses Atwood’s insights about remuneration for cultural work and her activism to improve the lot of other writers. She dissects Atwood’s late but passionate embrace of modern technologies: Atwood, who still writes books in longhand, has become a regular Tweeter and the inventor of the LongPen, a device for signing books by remote connection.
    Above all, York tries to grapple with the core area of tension for the famous—the conflict between the actual person Margaret Atwood—a woman with a family, friends and, above all, a vocation as a writer—and the public persona that celebrity demands.
    One useful reminder, somewhat buried under detail in this volume, is the extraordinary arc of Atwood’s career. In the 21st century, it is easy to forget that the poet Peggy Atwood did not start out as Margaret Atwood, Cultural Queen of Canada and the English-speaking Dominions beyond the Seas, Defender of the Arts. In the 1960s, the idea of Canadian culture was largely the dream of a distinctly raffish crowd, attracting little attention outside the confines of CBC Radio. The fact that we can now refer to the canon of Canadian literature without ironic quotation marks owes more to Atwood than to any other person.
    Along the way, Atwood has made herself famous and at least relatively rich. That is obviously one of the reasons that York wrote this book. As Lord Black used to remind us so often, Canada suffers from a bad case of Tall Poppy syndrome. We get snippy when fellow citizens get too big for their britches. Let’s put this more baldly than York does: a lot of Canadians really hate Margaret Atwood.
    Take for instance, Margaret Wente’s list of “7 Things You Can’t Say in Canada,” assembled for the Reader’s Digest Canada Online. The statement “Margaret Atwood Writes Some Awful Books” leads the list. Wente claims that “nobody is more feared.” She concludes:
    There is no such thing as a bad review of a Margaret Atwood book in Canada. That’s too bad, because many of her books are tedious and unreadable, full of tortuous plots and unpleasant characters. Why will no one say so? Because we’re grateful that she’s put us on the global map. And because if they do, they’ll never work in this country again.
    This is nonsense. Canada’s literary world is not the monolith that Wente imagines. Yet York sometimes seems to suffer from the same paranoid delusion. She spends a great deal of time defending Atwood’s reliance on the hidden labour of others—agents, editors, assistants—as if it were inherently immoral. Here is a quotation: “The major reason why relatively little attention has been paid to the workings of the celebrity culture industries is their own complicity in silenced labour.” York seems to assume that her readers will automatically condemn a writer who draws on the services of editors and researchers and an agent (actually more than one) and even a personal assistant. Is there really a school of thought on industrial relations that wants the names of all those supporting workers on the book’s cover with the author’s? Only an academic could feel such wonder that a commercial relationship, such as the one between author and agent, could also be a friendship. The rest of us are used to shades of grey.
    There is also a very Canadian prudery about books’ dual identity as cultural artifacts and marketable commodities. York anticipates censure of an author who tweets and performs and tries to safeguard her image, who even sells T-shirts on her website for The Year of the Flood, although all proceeds go to environmental non-governmental organizations. York goes to considerable trouble to reassure readers that these activities are not necessarily corrupt. York’s target audience apparently believe that writers should live on art and air.
    The fact that the same distaste for books as a commodity shows up in some of Atwood’s fiction (mostly her earlier novels, I notice) might be adequate justification for a scholarly article, but not, for most readers, an entire book.
    Outside the academy and the Occupy movement, very few people believe that art is pure and commerce is filthy and never the twain shall meet. For every Gwendolyn MacEwan or Al Purdy, resolutely ignoring the bourgeois benefits of a healthy bank balance, there is a Thomas Hardy, diligently studying copyright law before signing his first contract—or a Margaret Atwood, signing with an agent long before her earnings could justify the commission.
    Admittedly, the demands of the market often have unfortunate effects on art. But for better or worse, any perceived gulf between art and commerce is shrinking rapidly in our time. Look at the world of visual arts. Thanks to Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali—never mind Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons—the world has pretty well lost the idea that artistic integrity depends on starving in a garret.
    Nor is the intrusion of commerce into art a new phenomenon even in Canadian publishing. York may be too young to remember the first Seal Book Award in 1977. The winner, Aritha Van Herk, gamely climbed a rickety ladder to sign a facsimile cheque, which was printed as a giant billboard. Moreover, any woman named Judith—the title of the winning novel—was entitled to a free copy. Hucksterism and literature are old friends.
    Most of my university students would see nothing wrong with an author peddling T-shirts for her own profit, never mind for the worthy causes that Atwood’s spin-offs fund. They are already approaching the world of Goon Squad;they do not necessarily distinguish between art and the market. To my mind that is not a positive development, but it is already in place.
    Still, you may be so interested in either Atwood or celebrity theories that you will choose to read this book. Take note that anyone but masochists or professors would be wise to leave the first chapter until the end or to skip it altogether. You can test your tolerance for its rhythm and vocabulary by choosing quotations at random, such as this one: “As Su Holmes and Sean Redmond point out in their introduction to Framing Celebrity, this need to retain the specificity of celebrity in various areas of study is a matter of balancing the discourse of celebrity with the locality of that discourse’s performance.”
    If you decide to proceed, be warned that words such as “imbrication” and “impellate” crop up later in the book as well, although there are straightforward passages that avoid such constipated, academic prose. The tortured style can feel like someone playing hopscotch while lugging around a ball and chain. It underlines the paradox of devoting 200 pages to a close analysis of the woman whose office sports the message “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.”
    Still, you can find some new information and provocative ideas here. In particular, York provides fascinating details and analysis of Atwood’s use of technology. The LongPen—that remote signing device—struck me at the time of its invention simply as a clever gimmick to cut down on travel for time-pressed writers. But York is right to tease more meaning out of it, to examine the fan’s desire for contact and the question of the celebrity’s aura.
    In fact, I would have liked to see more discussion of what York calls the author’s “body,” of that question of fame’s aura. Celebrities used to have glamour, a magical quality that gleams in the distance but dissipates in close-up. Something—probably TV—has changed that. The sense of distance is being replaced by a growing sense of ownership, as if celebrities’ lives were by definition public property.
    That is one reason why it is important to ask what we mean when we talk about Atwood’s celebrity. How can one word embrace the renown enjoyed at one end by Margaret Atwood and at the other by Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson?
    It is not just a question of scale, of the size of Atwood’s image next to the vast imprint of Brangelina and Justin Bieber and David Beckham. Those are the people who are actually famous for achievement, however disproportionate the resulting rewards. There is another vast stratum of people who are famous for doing almost nothing—famous for being famous.
    They are not an entirely new phenomenon. Helen of Troy does not seem to have done much beyond looking good. But the 21st century is the Golden Age of random fame. Think back a couple of months to Charles Ramsey, the neighbour who helped to rescue three girls kept captive for years in Cleveland, Ohio. One of his interview clips (“Dead giveaway! Dead giveaway!”) was set to music and posted on YouTube. Within two weeks, that video had received 13,220,854 visits.
    His fame will fade fast, of course, especially after the news about those domestic violence charges. But some highly unappealing figures have exhibited surprising staying power. The checkout line in supermarkets shuffles along under the baleful gaze of the dreaded Kardashians (Kim, Khloe and Kourtney), a family that can actually make you nostalgic for the Gabor sisters. TV channel surfers run the risk of encountering the ubiquitous Honey Boo Boo, the wannabe preschool beauty pageant queen—the Shirley Temple de nos jours, minus the talent, the looks, the sunny disposition and the charm. Readers of this journal probably would not recognize three quarters of the tabloids’ current celebrities, a motley collection of the winners and casualties of reality and talent shows, attention-hungry socialites, alcoholic and anorexic and drug-addicted actors and musicians.
    Most of them will not enjoy much more than the 15 minutes Andy Warhol promised us all, of course, whether they have achieved celebrity or had it thrust upon them. Fame requires hard work over the long haul—although the effort does not always pay off. In this ocean of shlock culture, Atwood is entitled to enormous credit for managing to finesse the demands of the market and the media while still producing books.
    Ah yes, the books. Politically engaged though she is, surely Atwood is more concerned about the survival of her work than her public image. And that is the great irony here. Atwood may be a celebrity, and one who sells a lot of books, but she and her CanLit colleagues are losing the war. In the June issue of the LRC, Michael LaPointe lamented the neglect of Canadian writing in our schools. Add to that the evaporation of so many Canadian publishing houses, the industry’s fixation on mega sellers and the general decline of reading, and you can see a future when the words “Canadian literature” and possibly even “book” will require ironic quotation marks.
    The important point here, it seems to me, is that Atwood’s hard work to become a cultural icon—a celebrity—is anchored in an unparalleled body of work. You do not have to like all of it—it is hard to imagine a reader who would. But art is long and life—never mind fame—is brief. Atwood’s celebrity is a sideshow; I am going back to her books.

    Sunday, September 22, 2013


    we've got too many internets so we announce one more review by Tanja Cvetkovic.


    “Sketches of a Lemon” appeared in 1980 and was published as part of the collection of poems Field Notes (1981), Completed Field Notes (1989). It is a signature poem of the postmodern school. Kroetsch’s famous question in the Seed Catalogue “How do you grow …?” does not appear in this poem explicitly; still the question resounds throughout the poem.
    In the spirit of his postmodern technique, Kroetsch describes the  presence of a lemon in terms of absence.

    The poem, consisting of twelve sketches, is a story without narrative, with paradoxical constructions without ordering. The lemon is compared to what it is not.

    “A lemon is almost round.

    Some lemons are almost round.

    A lemon is not round.” 1

    What Kroetsch applies in these three lines is his technique of naming, unnaming and renaming. Trying to capture a lemon in words, he says “A lemon is almost round”, then he unnames it “some lemons are almost round”, which means that not all lemons are round, and then he defines a lemon through negation: “A lemon is not round”. The speaker continues to speak of a lemon in terms of negation in sketch 4:

    “Sketches, I reminded myself,

    not of a pear,

    nor of an apple,

    nor of a peach,

    nor of a banana

    (though the colour

    raises questions)”2

    The attempt to determine what lemon is depends on absence. It is the absence of the lemon attempted to be created in words that invokes a lemon.

    In the poem, Kroetsch is a poet and a painter who actually paints down a lemon on the table leaving a puzzle for the reader: how to grasp the meaning of the absurd sketch of a lemon left behind him on the white pages of the book.

    The poem gives off “sensual, visual, tactile, olfactory”3 images, underlining the connection between the poet and the painter, the abstract and the concrete. The dominant image is the still-life of a lemon. Through the postmodern technique of negation, Kroetsch achieves an affirmation. The problem is if a lemon belongs to the abstract still-life world or if it is attempted to be created in words and turned into something concrete.

    “poem for a child who has just bit into

    a halved lemon that has just been squeezed:

    see, what did I tell you, see,

    what did I tell you, see, what

    did I tell you, see what did

    I tell you, see, what did I

    tell you, see, what did I tell

    you, see, what did I tell you,

    see, what did I tell you, see,

    what did I tell you, see, what

    did I tell you, see, what did

    I tell you, see what did I

    tell you, see, what did I tell

    you, see, what did I tell you

    One could, of course, go on”4.

    The lemon is written over as a photographic representation of the thing. If the reader wants to grasp  meaning, he should “see” and find the meaning on his own.

    In sketch 3, the impossibility to create a material object in words is anticipated by the picture of blackberries, which replace lemons:

    “I went and looked at Frances Ponge’s poem

    on blackberries. If blackberries can be

    blackberries, I reasoned, by a kind of analogy,

    lemons can, I would suppose, be lemons.

    Such was not the case”5.

    By speaking of blackberries to describe a lemon, the speaker stresses the arbitrary relation between the signifier and the signified and the fact that meaning lies beyond the level of signification.

    In sketch 2, the arbitrary nature between the signifier and the signified is further depicted by inserting the memory of the speaker’s father.

    “As my father used to say,

    well I’ll be cow-kicked

    by a mule.


    He was especially fond of

    lemon meringue pie”6.


    The paradoxical construction of being “cow-kicked by a mule” also indicates the arbitrariness and is stressed by the association of his father’s fondness for “lemon meringue pie”.

    A paradoxical comparison is made in sketches 8 and 12 where the speaker makes the comparison:

    “I’d say, a lemon is shaped

    exactly line an hour.


    The hour is shaped like

    a lemon. We taste its light

    on the baked salmon.

    The tree itself is elsewhere”7.

    By connecting the abstract with the concrete, the hour and the lemon, the speaker tries to define the lemon: “The hour is shaped like a lemon”. In “Sketches of a Lemon”, the tree, as a recurrent trope in Kroetsch’s poems, from which the lemon originates, is absent and is elsewhere. Instead of a single origin, we have no origin at all, just multiple possibilities to (re)connect with the world. Similarly, Kroetsch asserts in the interview that: “Instead of the temptations of “origin” we have genealogies that multiply our connections into the past, into the world”8.

    Though the poem consists of meaningless accidental occurrences of words, it offers a pleasurable opportunity for the reader to decrypt its significance. The reader is invited to play the role of the maker of meaning. Meaning resides in reading, not in texts. Garrett-Petts and Lawrence explain that “the accidental thus becomes a postmodern aesthetic principle asserting the ascendancy of process over product, horizontal association over vertical dominance”9. The sketches are brought into new meaningful arrangements by absorbing the reader in an  imaginative and intellectual engagement.